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Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (3)
Football; Heart-shaped candy box or piece of construction paper; Card stock printed with scripture reference and verses; Heart-shaped candy (optional)
What’s this? (Show the football and let the children answer.) It’s a football, and it’s used to play a game called football.
What’s this? (Show the heart.) It’s a heart. The heart beating inside your body isn’t really shaped like this, but we call this a heart shape, and it’s often used to remind us of love.
Every winter, usually late in January or very early in February there’s a very famous football game played on television. This year it was on (date). Does anyone know what it’s called? (Let the children answer.) It’s called the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl is all about football. Coming up is a holiday that’s all about love. It’s on February 14. Can anyone tell me what that day is? (Let the children answer.) That’s right! It’s Valentine’s Day, and Valentine’s Day is all about love.
The Super Bowl is about football, and Valentine’s Day is about love. Football … and love. Can football teach us anything about how God wants us to love each other? What if we talk about how football and love are different?
When you play football, there are two teams. If you look at the scoreboard, the team names might be listed, or maybe the scoreboard says, “Home” and “Visitor.” Either way, there are two teams and each team is divided into two squads: The offense and the defense. The offense tries to score points and the defense tries to stop the offense of the other team.
In love, we work together. Whether we’re talking about the love you feel for a friend, the love you feel for someone in your family, or a boyfriend and girlfriend kind of love, there is only one team. When you love someone you work for each other, not against each other. God wants us to work together.
When people play football, they’re always trying to knock other people down. Two players run into each other, and knock or pull each other to the ground. It’s called tackling, and it is part of the game. But when you love someone, you try to build that person up. How do you build other people up? You help them. You do nice things for them and encourage them. So football and love are opposites in that sense. In football, you knock people down. In love, you build them up. God wants us to build each other up.
There’s something else different about football and love. In football, there are a lot of rules! There are rules about how long you can hold the ball, who you can throw it to, when you can move and when you can’t, who you can tackle and who you can’t, what you can do if you do have the ball, and what you can do if you don’t. It’s very complicated. The rulebook is thick, too!
Love, on the other hand, doesn’t have big set of rules. God asks us to love him first and then to love the people around us the way we love ourselves. That’s a lot easier to remember, and we don’t need a referee to help us because we’ve got God. There are many complicated rules in football, but only two, simple things God want us to remember about love: Love God first and love our neighbors as ourselves.
There’s something else. Football is played with a timer, and you know what? The referee is always stopping the timer. In fact, it seems like a football game is only played for five or ten seconds at a time, and then someone breaks one of those complicated rules we just talked about, and the referee stops the game and the timer.
Love isn’t like that. There’s no time limit, and you don’t stop and start love again and again. When you love someone, you love that person all the time, the way God loves us. Even if the person makes a mistake, you love that person anyway, because God wants us to love all the time.
The differences between love and football aren’t just sentiments made up by greeting card companies. They’re found in the Bible! Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, wrote about love in a very famous set of verses that you’ve probably heard read at a wedding. (Show the card stock with the printed scripture reference and verses.)
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, Paul wrote: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Do you know what these verses mean? They’re talking about the biggest difference between football and love. In football, the object of the game is to get the most points. To win the game, your team needs the biggest score.
But in love, no one is trying to win. According to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, love doesn’t keep score. God doesn’t want us to keep score with the people that we love, and most importantly, God doesn’t keep score with us. If you love God and you are trying to do what he wants you to do, he’ll forgive and forget your sins and love you with all his heart. That’s what God wants us to do with the people we love, too.
We all know what it’s like to wake up from a frightening dream and think, “Wait a minute! Was that real?” And once we get a little more alert, we realize that it was just a dream, and we hopefully fall back to sleep.
Psychologists say there is one type of dream that is nearly universal. Can you guess what it is? It’s the dream of being unprepared for an exam. It’s awful, isn’t it? School children all over the world report having this dream, or I should say, this nightmare, for that is what it truly is. In this dream, you realize on the day of the exam that you never showed up for class—you missed the entire semester. Or the exam questions are written in a foreign language you don’t recognize, or you completely forgot to study the night before.
Dr. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, studied these exam dreams and concluded that they are never about exams we have failed. Rather, he discovered that these dreams usually involve exams in which we did well. So he believed that exam dreams were actually our brain’s way of reassuring us that we’ve faced this challenge before, did well and could do it again.
I hope he’s right. I suspect I’m not the only one who panics at the thought of facing a big challenge unprepared. And it helps us relate to the situation of Jeremiah the prophet in our Scripture lesson for today.
Jeremiah was a young priest in a small settlement near Jerusalem when God spoke to him one day and called him to be a prophet to the nations. Nothing scary about that, is there? Don’t kid yourself.
It’s funny, but I’ve often said, and I’ve heard others say, “If God would just speak to me! If He would just tell me what I should do with my life, it would be so much easier.” We all think that if God spoke to us in a clear and unmistakable way, we would feel instant relief, and would obey instantly. But look at all the people God spoke to in the Bible. Very few responded with, “Sounds great! I’m on it! Thanks for the clear directions.” Almost every person responded with fear, questions or excuses. So, let’s not kid ourselves that we are so faithful or courageous to respond when God calls us to fulfill His purposes.
Jeremiah responds like we probably would, “Alas, Sovereign Lord” [which is another way of saying “Oh no!”] “I don’t know how to speak; I’m too young.”
Which seems like a reasonable excuse to us. “No, thank You, Lord. I’m not ready. I’m sure You meant to give this job to someone else.”
It reminds me of a comment a manager wrote in an employee evaluation: “He’s never been very successful,” read the evaluation. “When opportunity knocks, he complains about the noise.” (1)
Jeremiah wasn’t exactly complaining. He just wasn’t listening. All Jeremiah heard was the responsibility. He didn’t hear the reassurance. God never gives a responsibility without first giving reassurance. God never calls someone without first comforting them. God never appoints someone without first anointing them.
Look at God’s words in the beginning of this passage: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart . . .”
I hope you hear these words too just as Jeremiah did . . . and plant them in your heart and mind. Because your life will never have the impact God created you for unless you understand this truth: God made you for a purpose. That’s the first truth we need to understand from Jeremiah’s story. God made you for a purpose. In fact, when God tells Jeremiah “. . . before you were born I set you apart,” the word used here literally means “set apart for a sacred purpose” or “consecrated.” You weren’t just made for a purpose. You were made for a sacred purpose. For God’s purposes.
Dr. Robert Schuller—famous for coining the phrase possibility thinking—was once asked in an interview how he developed such a positive, optimistic outlook on life. He said he developed this attitude through his morning prayer time. Every morning, he would pray, “Dear Lord, lead me to the person You want to speak to through my life today. Amen.”
That’s an interesting prayer. “Dear Lord, lead me to the person You want to speak to through my life today.” How could such a simple prayer change his whole outlook on life? Dr. Schuller says that this prayer caused him to see the people around him as opportunities for God’s blessings. Because of this prayer, every interaction became an opportunity for God to speak through him. Don’t misunderstand. He didn’t assume he had all the answers. But the burden wasn’t on him. He assumed that if he would do his part, God would work through him to bring some truth or love or mercy into that person’s life.
What would change about your life if you viewed every moment as a limitless opportunity to live for God? Every moment. The time you spend on the school bus or commuting each morning. The conversations in the locker room or the conference room or the band room or on social media. What would those moments look like if you knew God was working through you to change people’s lives?
Ephesians 2:10 in the New Testament reads, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which were prepared in advance for us to do.” Prepared in advance. God not only created us for good works, God prepared those good works for us in advance. God didn’t just make you for a purpose, God made you with a plan in mind. God made you for specific good works that were prepared in advance for you to do. There is nothing random or meaningless about your life. Every moment was created for God’s sacred purposes. That’s the first thing we need to understand from today’s Bible passage.
The second thing we need to understand from this passage is that, in order to accomplish God’s purposes, we must live without fear. Think what you could accomplish if you could live without fear.
Pastor Peter J. Blackburn tells a story about his family’s camping trip to a national park in Australia a few years ago. The Blackburns and their friends spread out and explored different hiking trails around their campsite.
Soon, Blackburn heard two of his sons calling for help. He looked up to see his sons and a friend had climbed a high rock ledge along one of the hiking trails and now they weren’t sure how to get down. Fortunately, the boys discovered a safe route on their own and soon rejoined the family at the campsite.
Once they returned, Blackburn had to remind them of one of the rules of rock climbing: never jump unless you can see where you’re going to land. And before you climb to a higher peak, make sure you see a way back down. (2)
That is great advice for rock climbers. That is not great advice for followers of Jesus Christ. God says, “Jump, and I will catch you.” God says, “Climb out on the higher peak and trust that I will show you the way.” Listen to God’s words to Jeremiah: “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
How many opportunities are lost to fear—particularly the fear of rejection? Personally, I’ve never heard of anyone dying because of rejection. How many blessings wither and die in the face of our excuses? Fear shrinks our vision. Fear stunts our potential. Fear steals our eternal impact. How? By making us doubt God’s calling. Listen to God’s words again: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Repeat to yourself three times a day or 30 times a day, “I will not be afraid for God is with me and will rescue me.” Then see what opportunities God opens up for you.
Let me tell you about somebody who conquered her fear and is doing wondrous good in her community. After suffering through an abusive relationship, an addiction to alcohol, and a cancer diagnosis, Debrah Constance found success and stability as vice president of a major realty company in Los Angeles, California. In her role as vice president, she was also in charge of her company’s philanthropic giving. As a result, she developed a heart for kids in disadvantaged, crime-plagued neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles.
Through her volunteer work with these kids, Debrah sensed that she had a larger mission than running a successful real estate company.
When she shared this growing conviction with a friend, he asked her, “What do you really want to do with your life?”
Without thinking, Debrah responded, “All I really want to do is open a safe house for the children at Jefferson High School.”
Her friend answered, “Then do it.”
And then the panic set in! Debrah began listing all the reasons she couldn’t open a safe house for kids. She, herself, had dropped out of high school. It would cost too much money. She didn’t have the education or the work experience.
And Debrah’s friend looked her in the eye and said, “You can do it. And you must do it.”
That conversation led to the founding of a community center named A Place Called Home that serves hundreds of young people every day in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The workers at A Place Called Home offer counseling, academic tutoring, mentorships, vocational training, after-school programs in the arts and various sports. They also provide college scholarships, job placement, and a safe hangout for kids and teens (3, 4).
How many lives have been changed, how many lives will be changed because Debrah Constance’s friend challenged her with the words, “You can do it. And you must do it.” To accomplish God’s purposes, we must live without fear.
And the final thing we need to understand from the story of Jeremiah is that, in order to accomplish God’s purposes, we must trust God’s plan. Doing great things for God begins with simple trust that the One who has called us will not forsake us as we seek to follow His call.
I was struck recently by some wise words written by finance blogger Bob Lotich comparing God with professional quarterback Tom Brady. And no, he didn’t say Brady can walk on water, though I’m sure some of his fans think he can. Here’s what Lotich wrote: “God loves throwing lead passes.”
Do we have any football fans here this morning? What does that mean? “God loves throwing lead passes.”
Lotich explains that a lead pass in football is when the quarterback throws a long pass not to where a receiver is, but to where a receiver is going. For a lead pass to work, the receiver runs ahead of the ball being thrown and trusts that the quarterback is going to throw it to just the right spot.
Bob writes, “With God, when you follow His principles, the results are almost always delayed. As in, when He asks you and me to do something, we rarely see the results of it immediately. We have to keep doing what we know He told us to do (running) and trusting that God will get us the results (the ball) somewhere downfield . . . If I were playing catch with NFL quarterback Tom Brady and he said, ‘Just start running and the ball will be there when you get there,’ I would trust him. He has 7 Super Bowl rings that prove he can sufficiently get the ball to a receiver downfield.
“How much more can we trust God when He says, ‘Just start running. I’ll take care of the rest’?
“Whatever you are trusting Him for today,” says Bob Lotich, “just keep running, and trust that He’s got it all worked out.” (5)
I love Bob’s conclusion: Whatever you are trusting God for today, just keep running and trust that He’s got it all worked out. That’s what Jeremiah learned to do. God didn’t choose Jeremiah because of his outstanding skills and charisma. Look at the final verses from today’s Bible passage: “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
God’s plan is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about God working through us. As the Lord said to Jeremiah, “I have put my words in your mouth.” But God gives us a choice. What we give to God, He will use for His purposes. So, what would happen if you gave everything to Him?
God made you for a sacred purpose. You can’t un-hear that truth. Every moment you are alive is a sacred opportunity to do good works that God prepared in advance for you to do. The only obstacle standing between you and God’s sacred purpose is your willingness. Will you give every part of your life to God? Will you refuse to let fear shrink your vision? If so, God can use you to bring hope and salvation to people who might never meet Him any other way. Decide today to trust everything to God’s purposes, and God will use you to make an eternal impact in others’ lives.
1. Boss, Jobs and Leadership Jokes provided by James R. Martin, Ph.D., CMA, http://maaw.info/GadgetsandGames/BossJokes.htm.
2. Peter J. Blackburn, http://peterjblackburn.com/sermons/pb040309.htm.
3. Jan Goldstein, Life Can Be This Good (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 2002), pp. 39-42.
4. Debrah Constance, https://apch.org/who-we-are/from-the-founder/.
5. Bob Lotich, Seedtime.com newsletter, “Do you trust God more than Tom Brady?” January 26, 2021.
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (2)
Preparation: Bring a pen, the kind that can be taken apart and has a small spring in it. Before you come to the children, take your pen apart, put the spring in your pocket and then put it back together without the spring. As an option, bring a pen for each child present.
(Begin by trying to write something with your pen.) Say: My pen doesn’t seem to be working properly. It looks all right. I don’t see anything missing. Does anyone know what is wrong with it? (If no one suggests the spring is missing, take the pen apart to investigate.)
Oh, the spring is missing. Surely that can’t mess up the whole pen! It is just a tiny little spring. Oh, you think that could be the problem? Well, I just happen to have an extra spring here in my pocket. Let’s see if it will fix the problem. (Fix the pen and then demonstrate that it works properly.) It’s amazing that something this small can make a difference to the whole pen.
Our Bible lesson today tells us a story similar to the spring and pen. Jeremiah was just a boy, but the Lord told him that He wanted Jeremiah to be a prophet to all the nations. Being a prophet is kind of like being a preacher that travels around to all of the towns preaching. Now, what would you think if God told you to go around preaching to all the people? Jeremiah said, “Oh, God, I can’t do that! I’m too young!” What do you think God said to him? God said, “Do not say, I am too young, because every place I tell you to go you shall go and speak. Do not be afraid. I am with you!” I think God was saying to Jeremiah, “Yes, you are young, you are little, BUT you can do anything with my help. You can make a difference.” Just like the little spring. It made all of the difference in the world to how the pen worked. Likewise, you (point to a child) or you (point to a different child) or you (point to still a different child) can make a difference to your family and your church family. God believes that children are important. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
Today’s first reading is from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived 600 years before the Lord. 600 years is a long time. Imagine us reading something from 1419. Jeremiah prophesied before the King and the leaders of the people. Then he spoke to the everyday people. He told them all that their lifestyle had brought suffering upon themselves. He told them not to make treaties with the pagans, treaties which would demand they sacrifice to pagan gods and participate in pagan immorality. He told them to trust in God. For this he was persecuted, attacked, even left to die in a cistern. Perhaps the most important message of the prophet is contained in today’s first reading from the beginning of the book. The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Now, there are many levels to prophetic statements. There is the level that refers to the prophet and his or her time. God was telling Jeremiah that he had picked him out to be his prophet before Jeremiah was even conceived. There is a level that looks down from the prophecy to the time of the Messiah. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” speaks about the presence of the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and God’s plan for the Word to become Flesh, a plan put into motion by Mary’s agreeing to be the Mother of the Lord at the Annunciation.
A similar example of the layers of prophecy would be in Isaiah where the King is told that a virgin shall be with a child whose name will be Emmanuel. The people of Isaiah’s time saw this as referring to Hezekiah. As time went on this prophecy was recognized as referring to Jesus.
There is still another level to the prophecy though. It is the level that looks down through the ages, 2,600 years, that looks to us. The overwhelmingly Good News is that before each of us was born, or even conceived, God knew us, each of us. Think about that. God knew you and knew me before our mothers and fathers ever met. He was excited to bring us into being. He was thrilled to call us to proclaim His truth. We are not just random results of nature. We are individuals whom God has been fascinated with from before our existence.
And He calls us to proclaim His Truth. But his call comes with the warning that was given to Jeremiah, “They will fight against you, but I am with you to deliver you.” He will be with us as we proclaim the authentic way of life, living for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus proclaimed the truth in the Synagogue in Nazareth. The prophecy about the results of proclaiming the truth given in Jeremiah and witnessed in Jesus’ life on earth continues with us. Some people don’t want to hear us when we proclaim God’s truth with our lives as well as our words. They mock us. They insult us. They vilify us. They want to push us off the cliff of respectability. But the One who called us from before we were conceived, will not desert us. His way, His truth will prevail. There is nothing that anyone can do to us that will force God to leave us. “What can separate us from the Love of God,” St. Paul asks in Romans 8: 38. Nothing can take God from us. If he is for us, who could be against us?
We have to proclaim all that is right and moral and God’s way, but we have to speak with charity. The great praise of love of 1 Corinthians 13, Love is patient, love is kind, and so forth, is far more than a wonderful reading for a wedding. It is God telling us how we are to care for people. We are to proclaim his truth with patience and kindness, and not with all the negatives of the passage from today’s second reading. We cannot proclaim God’s love if we are arrogant, jealous, selfish, angry, and vengeful. If in our determination to proclaim God’s truth, others cannot see the love of God behind our words and actions, then we are not proclaiming His Kingdom. We cannot be using the truth like a two by four to beat people over the head and into submission. If we let our anger determine our actions, even anger over horrible things like abortion, we will get no where. If that’s our way of acting, then we need to grow up. That’s why St. Paul adds in the reading, “When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, think like a child, and reason like a child, but when I became a man I put childish things aside.” God is calling us to be patient and kind with others, even those, especially those, who do horrendous things.
He called us from before we were in our mothers’ wombs. How wonderful is that? He has always loved each of us as individuals. He entrusts us with the mandate to proclaim His Kingdom in a loving way. He assures us that whatever happens in our lives or in our world, whatever dangers lurk, from Islamic terrorism on the extreme right to the exaltation of immorality on the extreme left, even if the worst should happen to the world, to our nation, or to any of us, faith, hope and love will remain. And the greatest of these is love, for God is love and He will never desert us.
To each of us, God is saying today, “I knew you Sharon, Bob, Phil and Mary; add your own name here. I knew you from before you were even conceived. I have called you to proclaim my truth, to be authentic to whom you are, my daughter, my son. I have called you to proclaim the Truth with love. And I promise you, no matter what results from your proclamation, I will always be with you.”
Have you ever been rejected? Have you ever had a door shut in your face? Welcome to the real world. Parents spend years grooming their children for success. Perhaps it would be more profitable to train our children to handle failure and rejection because everyone faces these unhappy experiences sooner or later.
Go to Google. Type in the words “famous rejections.” If you do, you will learn that J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series of novels, was rejected by 12 different publishers before her work was accepted. One of them even advised her to “not quit her day job.” Fortunately she did not listen. To date, her writings have netted her more than one billion dollars. That’s a billion with a “b.” I believe she can live on that.
You’ll also discover that after just one performance, Elvis Presley was fired by Jimmy Denny, the manager at the Grand Ole Opry. He reportedly told Elvis, “You ain’t going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.” Last I heard, Elvis did all right for himself, too–at least as a performer.
Steve Jobs of Apple computing fame was at one time fired by the very company he created. Eventually he was taken back, of course, and Apple went on to become the most profitable company in the world, but even Steve Jobs knew what it was to fail.
Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times before it was published. Carrie, as you may recall, went on to spawn four movies and a Broadway musical.
Director Steven Spielberg was rejected three times for admission to the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television. I guess they figured that Spielberg who directed such films as Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan and many, many more just couldn’t cut it in the film business. (1)
Many young people today are having a difficult time getting their careers and even their lives off the ground. Critics point to the many adult children who still live at home. But many young adults who are on their own are also struggling. All I can say to these young people is “don’t give up” if you aren’t an instant success. Many of the most successful people who have ever lived have failed their first time at bat–or even several times at bat. It even happened to Jesus. Batting 300
Teaching in their synagogues, he is met with praise everywhere he goes.
Until . . . he returns home. “You can’t go home again,” said writer Thomas Wolfe, and in Jesus’ case, he was right
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed–only Naaman the Syrian.”
The mood in the synagogue began to change. What’s he saying? He’s not going to perform miracles in Nazareth like he’s performed in other places? Why not? Is he saying that his theological views have taken him far beyond the small town attitudes that he was brought up with? The people in his hometown didn’t understand Jesus at all. Whatever he was saying, it was not what those folks wanted to hear. Luke tells us they were furious. They were so furious that they rose up and drove Jesus out of the town. In fact, they were so aroused with anger that they took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. He escaped, but that was a remarkable beginning to his ministry. And you are worried about your future!
I mean most every young pastor has a lukewarm response to their first sermon, but this was ridiculous. They were ready to kill him. Tough audience. However, someone has noted that these town folk had biblical grounds. Deuteronomy 13 says that if you have a false prophet in your midst, you may kill him. In the eyes of his own people, Jesus, the Son of God, was perceived as a false prophet and eventually, of course, was put to death.
This is a sad but true fact of life. False prophets often prosper while true prophets are often rejected. Sometimes people are punished, not because they have done something wrong, but because they have done something right.
False prophets get rewarded. True prophets get crucified. Or even worse, get ignored. Popularity is never the proper way to judge who is right. The only measure that is trustworthy is whether that person reflects the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
What I am saying is this: Do not despair if you get rejected as long as you are following Jesus. It doesn’t matter how you are rejected. It might be socially, it might be professionally. It might be by people you thought were your friends, or it might even be your own family. It might be because you have done something right or it may be because you have done something wrong. Either way, rejection stings.
But listen to this word of reassurance. There are two remedies for rejection: The first is time. “Time heals all wounds,” says the ancient adage. Some insightful sage has added, “and wounds all heels.”
There is a grand measure of truth there. Time is a great healer. That funny lady Phyllis Diller once added, “Yes, time is a great healer, but time is a terrible beautician.”
Here is what we need to know: persistence will eventually conquer resistance. Ask anyone who has made it through a heartbreaking experience, and they will tell you that, if you hang in there long enough, the sun will surely shine again.
That is why, by the way, we must never make it easy for people to take their own lives. Most people who take their own lives do so during a period of depression, and for most people, depression passes given enough hours and days and weeks. The desperate person, if he or she will simply hold on a little bit longer, will live to see the ultimate worth of life. That is the word that must always be spoken to rejected hearts. Don’t give up. Better days will come.
I was reading recently about the tragic ending to the life of Kurt Cobain of the rock group Nirvana. On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle by an electrician who had come to install a home security system. His death was ruled a suicide by a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head. He was 27 years old.
During the last years of his life, Cobain struggled with heroin addiction and chronic depression. He also had difficulty coping with his fame and public image. And there seems to have been problems in his marriage to his wife, musician Courtney Love.
Cobain traced many of his problems back to his parents’ divorce when he was nine years old. He seemed to have felt that in addition to rejecting one another his parents were rejecting him by divorcing. In fact, all his short life this seemed to be a common theme–rejection. One of his last recordings was titled, “Jesus wouldn’t want me for a sunbeam.” (2)
Twenty-seven years old! What a waste. Drug addiction is a terrible thing. So is depression. That is why I am saying to you if you are going through a hard time right now, hang in there, regardless of how desperate you may feel. Most people who determine to take their own life discover that, if they can just hang in there until the cloud passes from their soul, there is hope on the other side.
Time is a remedy for rejection. But an even greater ally is God. If somebody had just gotten the word to Kurt Cobain, not in a superficial way, but in a deep, authentic way that “Jesus would want him for a sunbeam,” what a difference it might have made. The most powerful antidote to feelings of rejection is the deeply inclusive, all-embracing love of God.
A young man named Jeremiah, one of the premiere prophets of the Old Testament, discovered that. Jeremiah was rejected in the same way as Christ was rejected, and it broke his heart. In fact, he was known as the “Weeping prophet.” Deeply religious people sometimes experience depression, don’t forget, just like everyone else. But Jeremiah had a good reason for weeping.
Jeremiah was called by God to prophesy Jerusalem’s destruction. This destruction, he said, would occur by way of invaders from the north. This was because Israel had been unfaithful to the laws of the covenant and had forsaken God by worshiping Baal. The people of Israel had even gone as far as building high altars to Baal in order to burn their children in fire as offerings. The nation had deviated so far from God that, in God’s eyes, they had broken the covenant, causing God to withdraw his blessings from them. Jeremiah was guided by God to proclaim that the nation of Judah would be faced with famine. Furthermore they would be plundered and taken captive by foreigners who would exile them to a foreign land.
How do you think such a prophecy was received? “Change the channel, Gladys,” one of them probably said, “I’m tired of hearing what’s wrong with this country.” That’s how it was received. And the people turned against Jeremiah.
Jeremiah could not have endured the isolation and the scorn that was his lot without a deep and abiding faith in God. The word of the Lord came to him saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” Wow, what a source of security! No wonder he could handle rejection so well. His life was built upon the rock of God’s love for him. He knew, because he was speaking for God, time would prove his assertions as true. He had the greatest ally that anyone could have. He was on the side of God.
Do you have that kind of security–an inner strength that will not fail? It was in the Ravensbruck Work Camp that Corrie ten Boom discovered that the Lord was indeed her refuge–as she put it, her “hiding place.”
My friend, God offers each of us that same kind of security, that same kind of refuge when we are rejected. Rejection hurts. It is a universal hurt. But we can go on. There are two remedies for rejection that will not fail us, time and God. Hang in there when things get tough and trust Him.
A popular little song from days gone by says: “If tears were pennies And heartaches were gold, I’d have all the money My pockets would hold.”
We have all been there in our own way. But there is another song. It’s in our hymnal. In it you will find these hopeful words:
“Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter, Feelings lie buried that grace can restore: Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness, Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.” (3) Don’t give up, regardless of your situation. God is with you.
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (1)
Some of you will remember the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield who made a handsome living with the phrase — “I don’t get no respect.”
“I don’t get no respect,” Rodney would say, adjusting his tie. “I tell ya when I was a kid, all I knew was rejection. My yo-yo, it never came back . . . With my dog I don’t get no respect. He keeps barking at the front door. He don’t want to go out. He wants me to leave . . .”
Said Dangerfield, “I asked my old man if I could go ice-skating on the lake. He told me, ‘Wait till it gets warmer.’”
He said, “Once when I was lost I saw a policeman and asked him to help me find my parents. I said to him, ‘Do you think we’ll ever find them?’ The policeman said, ‘I don’t know kid. There are so many places they can hide.’”
Things didn’t get any better as he got older. For example, he said his bank told him that, if he’d close his account, they would give him a free toaster . . . He said that once in a swimming pool he was drowning. He screamed for help and the lifeguard told him to hold it down . . . Things got so bad he called the suicide prevention hotline . . . and they tried to talk him into going through with it . . .
Rodney Dangerfield was making light of a certain truth in our society. Some people simply aren’t given much respect. Have you noticed? Most women know what I’m talking about. Members of minorities know what I am talking about. People on welfare know what I’m talking about.
The newspapers carried an article about a junior-high boy who is thirteen years old. He always carries a gun with him according to this article. When someone asked him why he carries it, he said, “Because if I pack a gun, then I’m gonna get respect.” (1)
When you hear about inner city youth who say they are being “dissed,” that is shorthand, of course, for being disrespected. Above all else, they want respect. Don’t we all? The truth is, though, there are people who go through their entire lives and never feel respected–particularly among those closest to them.
I’m not going to ask if there is anyone here who was ever eager to leave home as a youth because you never felt like the people in your own family respected you. I’m not going to ask if anyone here couldn’t wait to leave high school and get on to college–preferably one far, far away–because you didn’t feel your peers gave you any respect. They never listened to you. They didn’t even seem to know you were in the room. I suspect that there is someone in this room today who is an adult, but you don’t feel you are respected where you work or at home. You feel taken for granted, maybe even taken advantage of. Does anyone here know what I’m talking about?
I wonder if it didn’t strike a painful chord with many women, particularly married women. Several years ago the great Aretha Franklin sang the Otis Redding song, “Respect.” “All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit).”
I suspect all of us hunger for respect. We hunger for people to listen to us. We hunger for people to take our ideas seriously . . . or to care how we feel. When we are disrespected, we lose our sense of self-esteem or worth and feel dishonored as a person. Some of us are granted that respect. Others of us are not.
Maybe you will find encouragement from this: even Jesus had difficulty finding respect from those closest to him.
There is a bizarre statement in Mark 3:21 at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. I’m going to paraphrase it just a little bit, to fill in the context: “When his family heard about [Christ’s teachings and his casting out of demons], they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Imagine that–Jesus’ own family wanted to put him away because they thought he was out of his mind! Talk about no respect.
Then we have our lesson for today from Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue. We read, “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” Then, says Luke, “he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
Reading on in this passage we discover that the home folks were impressed. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. You can see their home-town pride start to swell. A local boy was doing well. But then they thought about his words, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The implications of that comment were obvious. Jesus was making the claim that he is the Messiah who was to come. And as they continued to listen, Jesus’ friends and neighbors became incensed.
These people had watched Jesus grow up. He was the boy they saw running around, playing games and being like every other boy in the community. How could Joseph’s son be the Messiah? Maybe he speaks well, maybe he even heals people, but he cannot be the Messiah. He’s just a carpenter’s son, for crying out loud.
Jesus knew what was going on in their minds. “No prophet,” he said, “is acceptable in his hometown.” By the time Jesus is finished speaking, we read these amazing words, “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”
That’s quite a remarkable response to his first sermon by a young rabbi in his home synagogue. They were going to kill him because they didn’t like what he was saying. He escaped, of course, but the lesson is clear: Among his own people Jesus couldn’t get any respect. Just remember that, if you happen to be a person who doesn’t feel others respect you. Jesus understands. He’s been where you are.
Let’s talk about the subject of respect for a few moments. Jesus didn’t need to earn people’s respect, but you and I do. How do you become a person who is respected? After all, positions don’t necessarily guarantee respect, titles don’t guarantee respect, age doesn’t guarantee respect, experience doesn’t guarantee respect. How do we become people who are respected?
It’s actually very simple. The first step to being respected by others is to respect yourself. Respect is earned, not given. And regardless of your age, gender, race, or ethnicity, anyone can earn respect by conducting himself or herself with dignity and character.
Let me give you something to think about. Our society over the past few decades has done a terrific job helping young people with their self-esteem. We’ve told our boys and girls that they are wonderful and that they are capable of doing great things. And that’s true. They are wonderful and they are capable of great things. And studies show that most young people have listened to us. Measures of feelings of self-esteem are at the highest level ever among young people.
But there is a difference between self-esteem and self-respect. Self-esteem has to do with how you feel about yourself. Self-respect has to do with the kind of person you really are. Are you a person of honor? Can people trust you? Are you the kind of person who seeks to do the right thing at all times–whether someone is looking or not?
Self-respect has to do with your personal code of conduct.
That is the meaning of David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character. Character, which is really another word for self-respect, is not won by comparing ourselves with others and saying, “Boy, I’m great.” Character is won by comparing ourselves with the person we used to be. Character, says Brooks, has to do with a perpetual struggle to be a better person. (2) It is being able to say, “I’m not everything I should be but, by the grace of God, I am a better person today than I was yesterday.”
That battle to be a better person may manifest itself in many ways. Let me give you a concrete example of the difference between self-esteem and self-respect.
A pastor tells about two young couples who attended his church for a while. The two men in the foursome had been long-time best friends; the two women enjoyed being together as well. One of the men, Mark, was quite a dynamic person. He was physically handsome and took great care of himself. Bob, on the other hand, was quite an ordinary guy. He was a nice guy, but he wasn’t really attractive to women in any way.
One day Bob’s wife confided to this pastor that she couldn’t help but be attracted to Mark. She said quite candidly, “If Mark ever looked in my direction, he could have me at a moment’s notice.” This was information this pastor did not want to have. This was a dangerous situation. But then Bob’s wife added, “Of course, Mark never would take advantage of this situation since he is Bob’s friend. For that,” she added, “I really respect him.” So do we.
Do you hear what I am saying? Are you a person who can be trusted? By your friends? By your family? By your employees or your employer? Every time a person resists a temptation to betray his or her moral code, he or she boosts his feeling of self-respect. Anytime you do or say anything simply and solely because it is the right thing to do or say, and anytime you refrain from doing or saying anything because it is wrong, you boost your self-respect.
Every temptation is a test. When you pass that test you feel better about yourself. We’ve taught our young to have self-esteem, but have we modeled for them what it means to have self-respect? We gain the respect of others, first of all, by respecting ourselves.
The second step in gaining respect for ourself is to respect others. Jesus calls us to respect all people, regardless of whom they may be.
I read about a man, John Barrier, who didn’t like the way a bank manager in Spokane, WA, looked at him–like he’d “crawled out from under a rock” because of his dirty construction clothes. So Barrier, who just wanted a parking slip validated, took his money and left. It just so happened that his money amounted to more than two million dollars.
It began when Barrier, 59, went to Old National Bank to cash a $100 check. When he tried to validate the slip to save 60 cents, a receptionist refused, saying he hadn’t conducted a transaction. She said he had to make a deposit.
Barrier told her that he was considered a substantial depositor and she looked at him like . . . “Well!”
He asked to see the manager, who also refused to stamp the ticket. Barrier went to bank headquarters vowing to withdraw his $2 million plus unless the manager apologized. No call came. So the next day he went over and withdrew the first amount–$1 million.
Barrier says, “If you have $100 in a bank or $1 million, I think they owe you the courtesy of stamping your parking ticket.” (3)
One of the keys to gaining respect for yourself is to show respect to other people. When the bank manager didn’t show this humble-looking customer the respect he was due, he in turn lost that customer’s respect. You receive that which you give out in the world. Isn’t this what Jesus meant in giving us the so-called Golden Rule? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). The second step in gaining respect is to respect others.
The third step in gaining respect is to do your best in everything that you do. I like something comedian Steve Martin said about success in show business, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Slackers may make good buddies, but they rarely win our respect. As St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to . . . be a worker who does not need to be ashamed . . .” He was speaking about the work of ministry, but it applies to every vocation. Do your best in everything you do, for then you will never have to feel ashamed. Shame above all other things robs us of our self-respect, which in turn, makes it difficult to win the respect of others. Conduct yourself professionally, and hold yourself to high standards and before long, you will sense that people respect you.
Tommy Nelson in his book, The 12 Essentials of Godly Success, tells about Oscar Hammerstein, who was once asked why he worked so hard to perfect his lyrics. He answered the questioner with a story about seeing a photo of the Statue of Liberty taken from a helicopter. He was amazed to see the sculptor’s detail on Lady Liberty’s hairdo because the statue was made in 1886?-long before anyone thought of having the capability of flying overhead to check up on his work. Why would someone spend time working on the top of the head of an 180?foot statue? It’s because Frederic Bartholdi, the Frenchman who made it, knew that liberty was grand and glorious and he wasn’t willing to do a halfhearted job.
And so Hammerstein realized that if Bartholdi could do his work with excellence for the concept of liberty, then he could do his music well for his audience. And so he strived for perfection and greatness in everything he did. (4)
Earning the respect of others is not easy. At the first of his ministry even Jesus was disrespected by his family and the people of his hometown. But there are three simple things each of us can do to win the respect of others: 1) Respect ourselves. Live out our highest values. 2) Respect others. Treat everybody the way we would like to be treated. And 3) do your best in everything that you do. “Do your best to . . . be a worker who does not need to be ashamed . . .”
1. James W. Moore, Some Things Are Too Good Not To Be True, (Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 1994).
2. (New York: Random House, 2015).
Rick Ezell, http://www.lifeway.com/Article/sermon-show-love-and-respect-john-13.
3. Elisa Tinsley http://funnysermons.com/.
4. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), pp. 138-139.